Michael Phelps’ goal in fifth Olympics to right a London wrong

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OMAHA — After Michael Phelps briefly choked up, and coach Bob Bowman shed tears, the U.S.’ first five-time Olympic male swimmer turned to the business ahead.

Phelps, on the eve of his 31st birthday and with his eight-week-old son in attendance (sleeping, Phelps guessed), became the oldest man to win a U.S. Olympic Trials event on Wednesday.

“Where I am in life, things are probably going to hit me a lot more emotionally now than they would have in the past,” Phelps said after handing a stuffed animal from his award ceremony to baby Boomer.

So much about Wednesday’s victory gave Phelps reason for a brief pause to compose himself before addressing the media.

Everything that happened since what we all thought was Phelps’ last Olympic race in 2012 (before which he and Bowman also cried): Unretiring in 2014. The DUI arrest, suspension, rehab stint. Getting engaged. Becoming a father.

The event in which Phelps made his fifth Olympic team is loaded with emotional history, too.

“It’s very special to the family,” said Phelps, whose sister Whitney swam it at the 1996 Olympic Trials and finished a disappointing sixth, slowed by a back injury.

The 200m butterfly was referred to as “Michael Phelps’ signature event” for nearly a decade.

He made his first Olympic team solely in the 200m butterfly in 2000. He became the youngest man to break an individual swimming world record when he lowered the 200m fly mark for the first of eight times in 2001. He won some 60 straight 200m butterflies in a nine-year span.

Then the London Olympics happened. Phelps lost two individual races at those Games. He was fourth in the 400m individual medley, which he should never have raced because he had barely trained for the grueling event.

Later, the 200m butterfly. South African Chad le Clos stunned Phelps by .05 of a second. Phelps is going to Rio to get that one back.

Phelps provided a glimpse into his competitive drive when he said Wednesday night that he recently watched the 2012 Olympic 200m butterfly final for the first time not too long ago.

“I was so anti- watching that race, because I just didn’t even want to bring up the memories,” said Phelps, who earlier in his career wouldn’t let go of stinging defeats (like after he lost a 100m butterfly to Ian Crocker in 2003 and taped a picture of Crocker up to see it daily). “I noticed a lot that I did in that race that I’m not going to do again. I think I’m a lot more prepared this time.”

Phelps faded badly in the final 50 meters (.63 slower than le Clos) and had an awful finish. Phelps came up short on his last stroke and had to glide into the wall.

On Wednesday night, Phelps appeared to be losing a little ground to second-place Tom Shields with 25 meters left but created some breathing room in his final few strokes. He won by .97 of a second over Shields, who is primarily known as a 100m butterfly swimmer.

Phelps’ last 50 meters were swum in 31.90 seconds, sixth best out of the eight swimmers.

That kind of effort will not cut it against the strongest gold-medal threats Phelps as perhaps ever seen in the 200m butterfly going into an Olympics.

There is le Clos, still in his prime at age 24. He won the 100m butterfly at the 2015 World Championships (with Phelps absent due to the DUI ban) in an African record 50.56 seconds and then awoke Phelps by trash talking.

Phelps responded later that day by winning the 100m butterfly at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio in 50.45, the fastest time in the world since 2009.

“Let that swim make statements,” Phelps said then.

A Phelps-le Clos rematch, with a little chirping, would be one of the most anticipated events at the Rio Olympics as a head-to-head.

Then add this — Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh won the European Championships 200m butterfly on May 16 in 1:52.91, the fastest time in the world in that event since Phelps’ world record at the 2009 World Championships.

Cseh’s time in May was 1.93 seconds faster than Phelps’ time on Wednesday night. Cseh, 30, has won five Olympic medals combined in three Games, all silver or bronze in events won by Phelps.

When Phelps came out of a 20-month competitive retirement in 2014, he swore off the 200m butterfly.

“Nope, uh-uh,” Phelps said then. “I will tell you that that race and the 400m IM are definitely gone.”

Phelps warmed to re-adding it in early 2015, when he noticed the world’s top 200m butterfly times were not impressive. Even when le Clos and Cseh started surging late last year, Phelps kept at it because his own physical shape had reached its peak since the 2008 Olympics, perhaps earlier.

“This 200m fly that’ll happen in the next couple of weeks [in Rio in August] will probably be harder than any 200m fly I’ve ever done,” Phelps said Wednesday.

Before Phelps went to celebrate with Bowman and longtime training partner Allison Schmitt, and to prepare for his final two events this week, he remembered a meeting with Muhammad Ali before the 2004 Athens Games.

“I’ll never forget him holding his fist up to my face,” Phelps said, “and saying you better win all those gold medals.”

MORE: Missy Franklin surges to make second Olympic team

LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

Delta LA 2028
LA 2028
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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

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When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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